Wednesday, September 5, 2012


If I did well in my university courses in historical musicology -- and I generally got good results, with the notable exception of my final Beethoven exam, where aliens stole my brain as I entered the examination hall -- the truth is that only half the credit for my success is due to my own diligence.  The other half goes to Ivaan.

Whenever I had an exam coming up, I relied on Ivaan to quiz me.  I'd  give him recordings to play at random.  I'd have to tell him who the composer was, the name of the composition, the year it was composed, what movement (if any) was playing, what the key signature was, what the tempo was, and perhaps the instrumentation as well.  Ivaan was a tough quizmaster.  He wasn't satisfied until I could answer all his questions without a single error.

For one particular exam in medieval and renaissance music, quite early on in the program, some of the pieces of music were indistinguishable to my untutored ears, so Ivaan's coaching was critical to getting me prepared for the exam.  When Ivaan's quiz started, I sailed through Hildegard of Bingen's O Viridissima Virga (1150, in case you care), squeaked through with Leoninus' Viderunt Omnes (1180) and Machaut's 1360 Mass of Our Lady.  As we sailed into the Renaissance, I was unshakeable on the lovelorn Beatriz, Countess of Dia's I Must Sing, because it had become one of my favourites.

I even knew the next one, because I had previously written a paper on it: Guillaume Dufay's Lament of the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople. But when Ivaan asked for the date of composition, I was totally stumped. I made a couple of guesses, both of them wrong. Finally I said, "I give up." Ivaan replied, softly, "Come on.  You should know this.  It's the year the Turks were at the Gates of Kiev."

I would like to pretend that the fog lifted and I said, "1453".  The truth is, I did not know the Turks were ever at the Gates of Kiev.  But Ivaan did.  The events of that day (May 29th, 1453) were as clear in his mind as if he had been there.  Sometimes I wonder if Ivaan in an earlier incarnation were actually there.  However, he was evidently also present in Vienna in 1809, the year of Joseph Haydn's death, witnessing Napoleon's invading troops besieging the city, yet passing Haydn's house quietly so as not to disturb the dying composer, and I know he cannot have been everywhere.

Still, I have never forgotten the year of Dufay's Lament, and yes, that question was on the exam.

My convocation took place on November 12, 2008, three weeks before Ivaan's death.  It was to be the last occasion he went out in public. However, I still had a final examination to write, and that exam took place two days after Ivaan's death.  It was an exam on The Beatles. Ivaan and the Beatles go back a long way - all the way back to 1966 - so he had a vested interest in ensuring I did particularly well on the exam. We spent the last week of his life studying, quizzing, listening to The Beatles, then quizzing some more.  When Ivaan went into hospital for his brain surgery, it was impossible for me to study.  My job was to sit in the waiting room of Intensive Care and concentrate on sending strength, courage, positive energy and love through to Ivaan in the neurosurgical theatre.

The surgery was successful, but Ivaan suffered a massive stroke about half way through the twelve-hour operation. The next few days were spent waiting to see if he would regain consciousness,  undergoing another surgery to relieve fluid build-up on his brain, asking his priest to administer last rites, and eventually saying a final goodbye to my beloved.

Meanwhile, back at the University, my professor, one of my absolute favourites, heard the news of Ivaan's death and emailed me, telling me not to come to the exam, that he would handle things administratively.   But in the days of relative calm following Ivaan's death and preceding his funeral, I felt strongly that I owed it to Ivaan to show up at the exam and give it my best shot.

Ivaan may well have been at the Gates of Kiev in 1453. He was probably in Vienna in 1809. And he was definitely with me in the examination hall on December 8th, 2008, encouraging me, prodding me, whispering dates and key signatures in my ear. Thanks to Ivaan and to Professor Kippen, we got a 90.

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